Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s upcoming visit to Japan provides senior Japanese officials a fresh opportunity to end their long silence on the Philippine government’s murderous “war on drugs.”
The three-day state visit, which starts Sunday, includes a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The prime minister should publicly call on Duterte to end the “drug war” killings and take steps toward meaningful accountability for those deaths. While the United States and the European Parliament have publicly criticized the extrajudicial killings of more than 12,000 suspected drug users and dealers since Duterte took office 15 months ago, the Japanese government has adopted a wholly uncritical business-as-usual posture with the Philippine government.
Japan’s silence in the face of massive rights abuses was on display during Abe’s January 12-13 state visit to the Philippines in which he announced a five-year, US$800 million assistance package to “promote economic and infrastructure development.” A month later, Japan’s Vice-Minister of Defense for International Affairs Ro Manabe endorsed the Philippines’ chairmanship of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in 2017. Manabe offered this plum support without reference to the rampant extrajudicial executions.
In April, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which funds overseas development initiatives, agreed to provide the Philippine Health Department with US$17 million for “upgrading of [drug] rehabilitation centers and enhancement of treatment protocols for drug dependents.” However, neither JICA nor the Health Department have provided any details about how the Philippine government will spend those funds, raising the risk they will support potentially abusive involuntary drug rehabilitation approaches linked to serious human rights violations elsewhere in Asia.
Abe should recognize that the human rights calamity that Duterte has inflicted on the Philippines should be met with a concerted response from partners of the Philippines, including Japan, who value universal human rights and rule of law. Abe can demonstrate Japan’s commitment to those values by unambiguously decrying Duterte’s killing campaign, demonstrating support for a United Nations-led international investigation into those deaths, and publicly committing to supporting only voluntary, community-based drug dependence treatment services that comport with international standards and human rights principles.